A sentence like "The man has white hair and beard" is totally acceptable in languages without countable/uncountable nouns or articles, and languages where modifiers follow the head noun (barring gender agreement issues).

But in English, both "The man has white [hair and _ _ beard]," and "The man has [white hair] and [a _ beard]" feel inaccurate, if not ungrammatical. Only "The man has [white hair] and [a white beard]" feels right.

As "He has dark [hair and _ eyes]" seems fine, it appears the presence of the article preceding the countable noun prevents it from being modified by the overt 'white'.

I'm looking for more information on conjunction reduction between constituents that require an article and ones that don't, specifically in cases where adjectives are involved in the reduction. Is this a phenomenon in English? Is there a better way to describe it, or somewhere I could read more about this specific topic?

  • 1
    Despite the fact that it bothers you, native English speakers seem to say white hair and beard more often than white hair and a white beard. See Google Ngrams. I'd say dropping the article is acceptable in this case. Dec 6, 2022 at 16:29
  • "The man has [white hair] and [a _ beard]" feel[s] inaccurate, if not ungrammatical. I don't know what dialect you speak, but to me (AmE) it sounds fine with various adjectives in that blank ("black", "long", etc.). Dec 6, 2022 at 18:38
  • Interesting. I find 'the man with white hair and beard' less jarring than 'the man has white hair and beard'. I don't know why; perhaps exposure to similar strings. Dec 6, 2022 at 20:03
  • This sounds way off to me (American English): The man has white hair and beard. Except if it were something written shorthand in a police report, and then it would later need lawyers to sort it out. Dec 7, 2022 at 3:40
  • "has white hair and a beard" seems perfectly natural, but it doesn't mean that the beard is white. It's equivalent to "has a beard and white hair"
    – Barmar
    Dec 9, 2022 at 21:10


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